Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Doubts at Training's End

Why do misakem maslul? My officers do not respect me, few of my peers see me as more than an easy target of mockery (thanks to my poor Hebrew and infamous poisoning) and my poor health could likely pose problems in the difficult week to come. Why put my health on the line? For who? For what?

Such was my mindset in the days before my final week of training. Misakem maslul, the long promised end to serving as a lowly trainee, was starting Saturday night. I had returned to base on Thursday after two days of sick leave. My officers, still smarting from the harsh words exchanged when I first fell ill during the misakem prat, did little to hide the smug disdain they had adopted since I informed them my illness was a result of my own mistake. Stupid foreigner, said their lips. Serves him right, said their eyes.

The guys in my unit were merciless in their mockery. I expected no better. Nevertheless, a friend's mockery has a warmth that is absent in the absence of friendship. The guys on my team are close with each other. But we are more like brothers than friends, conjoined twins minus any culture of kinship. Living and working together makes for an easy camaraderie. Yet the trust and care of friendship is rare within our ranks.

My sorry health had highlighted the isolation I feel within my unit. And so with a grueling week of training starting in two days, I was torn with doubts as to why I should put my health on the line for a place and persons beyond my concern.

Hamas quickly put my doubts to rest. On Thursday afternoon the Gaza based Islamist party fired an anti-tank guided missile at an Israeli school-bus. By chance the bus was nearly empty, as the bus was near the end of its route when the missile struck (the sole student on board, a sixteen year old boy, was the lone casualty). Had the bus been full, the devastating massacre would almost assuredly have pushed Israel to the brink of open war with Hamas. As it was, for several hours on Thursday evening my unit was readied for the outbreak of hostilities. Until Israel decided in the early morning hours on a limited response, it seemed likely that my final week of training would be replaced by real fighting down in Gaza.

The near transformation of next week's battles from training to a real conflict removed any doubts I had about participating in the misakem maslul. Had my unit been posted to Gaza, neither my poor health nor frayed personnel relations could have dissuaded me from fully participating. I would go because my country needs me. Because there are folks who do believe in me, or at least who still have what to learn from my success and failures. Folks like my family, friends and even the occasional blog reader like yourself.

The doubt I was not able to shake is that I would not be able to excel in the final misakem. My weak health meant I would simply have to focus on getting through the week rather than making the week something special. Mired in such doubts, I found some comfort in marathon memories. The marathon I ran in May 2009 taught me that success in long races is not about setting records as much as finishing great distance, running well, and appreciating the friends and family that tune into my struggles on the track. The lesson seems to be that there are things--challenges, relationships--worth having, doing, salvaging, even if they are not performed at the ideal level. Man plans and God laughs. Sometimes rolling with what is makes a stronger statement than waiting for what could.


Following the misakem, our officer said the takeaway lesson is to excel in everything we do in life. My experience this week left me with something of the opposite lesson. The misakem taught me that there are things one must do, challenges to overcome, where excelling may not be possible yet it is still necessary to press forward. Not everything turns out the way it should. A humbling yet necessary lesson of progress.

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